Queen Charlotte, the original founder of Kew Gardens in west London, first dressed the branches of a Christmas tree in the 1790s, for guests to admire. The tradition was resurrected three years ago, when the Royal Botanic Gardens first opened a festive lights trail.
Traditional and modern takes on the Christmas tree light up a winding, 30-minute trail with sweet and savoury stops along the way. Timed visits begin at 5pm, just as the winter’s darkness sets in. Sparkly, illuminated fountains set the scene in front of Palm House, which is awash in alternating lighting patterns. Bright holly bushes twinkle to festive music, and over-sized snowdrops and Christmas roses make it feel as if you’ve stepped inside a fantastical Christmas fairytale. The tour of an eye-catching fire garden, boughs of white lights, and a ring of mistletoe are pleasantly interrupted by stalls selling mince pies, marshmallows with an open pit for roasting them on a stick, and a hot chocolate bar with a dizzying number of toppings and additions – for grownups and children.
A psychedelic 60’s installation has visitors walk through dangling strings of light bulbs that change colour, from brilliant purple to green, and pink. There are traditional good tidings, too – in the form of a Victorian carousel (and other rides), a Christmas grotto with Santa and his elves, and a workshop (included in admission price) for making decorations and cards.
Kew’s café and shop are a cut above the norm. A well-curated selection of gifts features unique items, particularly for the ‘hard to buy for’ on your list. The cakes are the real stars at Kew, all sourced from a local farm. Allow time for tea and nibbles, from individual Christmas cakes to savoury muffins with goat’s cheese, you’ll want to take your time and indulge.
The mile long trail runs from now until 2nd January and is open for timed visits from 5pm – 8.15pm daily. This festive experience is as much for adults as it is for children.
Book in advance for discounted tickets at http://www.kew.org/christmas